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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Beer Fest Season

The weather is getting warmer (well not really here in NJ) and that means Beer Fest Season is upon us.  It is one of my favorite times of the year for me because you get to be outside, drink beer and hang out with friends and meet new people. I get pretty excited and it kind of reminds me of this scene from Wedding Crashers.

While our goals may be different, my enthusiasm matches that of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.  Heading out to beer fest, just like with crashing a wedding, requires planning.    If you want to read an excellent article on how to prep for a Beer Fest, check out CraftBeerJoe's article Seven Ways to Prepare for a Craft Beer Festival.  I usually attend 3-5 beer fest a year and I have my plan pretty well laid out, so while I may skip some of the steps that CraftBeerJoe suggests, know that I already have taken into account for them.  So whether you have never attended a festival or you are a seasoned vet, here a few things to help you get ready for your Beer Fest!

Before we get started on the what, where and how's of Craft Beer Festivals, you need to ponder this question...   What are you going to the festival to do? 
  1. Drink as much beer as possible
  2. Try some new beers
  3. Hang out with friends and meet some new ones
  4. Get to know more about the craft beers and breweries 
All viable reasons, but each requires planning. 

I go to Beer Fests for a mix of the the last three, so I will be talking about it from that perspective.

I have done big Craft Beer Festivals and small ones. While the larger ones give you more options and usually offer more than just beer (concert, zoo, etc), the smaller ones will give you a chance to talk with the brewers, sample the foods, and usually don't have lines.  Before you buy your tickets, talk to someone who has gone the festival before and ask them how it was or do some research and find reviews or photos from the event.  
I personally like the smaller Beer Fests because they feel less like a marathon and more like a backyard bottleshare. I am a talker so I like to chat up the brewery owners and talk about their beers and find out more about them and why the do what they do. The smaller beer festivals also have a more laid back feel to me as opposed to the college frat like feeling, I sometimes get from the larger ones.  
Most Craft Beer Festivals will offer a day session (12-3pm) and an evening (7-10pm). I like day drinking, so I always go with the afternoon session.  I look at it like this: If you are drinking beer all day, you are not going to be very productive that day. If you are drinking beer all night, you may not be in great shape the next day too. I recover better during the day after a nap, shower and a meal so it works for me. If you are the type of person that doesn't get hungover, then maybe the night one may fit your schedule better.

Know when to buy your tickets. Many of the bigger beer festivals will sell out. So if you have your heart set on a certain event, check out the date months before it happens. Not only is this helpful to getting a ticket, but you may also get it cheaper when you buy as an early bird special. Most well established festivals will be the same weekend each year.  One of the bigger Craft Beer Festivals in my area, Brew at the Zoo at Turtleback Zoo sells out in a week. Many friends have mine have missed out on this one because they didn't know they went on sale.  This year, I am the guy who missed out on a ticket! Be a good friend and when you are buying your tickets, send a message out to your beer drinking buddies.

Sign up for those apps that send you local events and deals. Living Social and Groupon are great ways to get notified when tickets go on sale or are discounted. Those site will also sometimes offer deals to use at local breweries, so its well worth the gigabytes on your phone. 

As the date gets closer, be sure to plan the logistics. How are you getting there? How are you getting home? Who is going and what time are we meeting?  Most beer festivals will give you a tasting glass and you will receive a 2 ounce pour for each beer. That doesn't sound like much but they add up quickly, not to mention some are higher ABV than others. After sampling beers all day, we all need a designated driver. Either bring a non drinking friend and buy them a designated driver ticket or arrange for a ride or ride service.  

I start hardcore prepping for a Beer Fest three days beforehand. Since you will be consuming a lot of different beers and since most festivals are outside this means you need to: 

  • Check the Weather Forecast - This makes a difference on what shoes you will wear, what you need to bring with you (poncho or sunscreen), and the setup of the day. If it does rain will they move it indoors or will you be soggy for hours? 
  • Hydrate - I start hydrating and planning out my meals a few days before a festival. Your body needs water, but at a Beer Fest you are giving it beer, so the water you drink a few days in advance will help keep you afloat later on. 
  • Print Out the Tickets - It is a nice backup just in case something doesn't work when you get to your destination.
  • Fuel Up - I plan my meals so that I won't be drinking on an empty or too full of a stomach.  Last year, I ate 3 hot dogs within the hour before we left and midway through the 3 hour session, I was bloated and full.  So knowing your body and how it works at an optimal level is important. I usually go with a good meal the night before (something that won't send you running to the bathrooms the next day) and two smaller meals the morning of (oatmeal, eggs, cereal). 
  • Plan Your Outfit - This one is probably just a "me" thing, but I have a Beer Fest outfit. It is
    comfortable, functional, and meant to be fun.  I have a few different beer shirts that often end up being conversation starters (more on that later) that I rotate through season of beer festing. Shorts with pockets that button are important because they prevent you from losing your wallet or cool swag that the breweries hand out. And the final piece is always comfortable footwear. With lots of walking and standing, you want some support. My footwear of choice happens to be gold Nike sneakers with custom #Brew162 on the back, which tend to standout, but look pretty sweet.
  • Make Your Necklace - Most festivals won't let you bring food in, but they will let you wear it. The Pretzel Necklace is a Beer Fest staple that you will see all around you.  Let me start by saying, it is not comfortable to wear or is it the most fashionable accessory, but when you are waiting in line for a pour, it will come in handy and will also help cleanse your palate of that not so great tasting you just had.  It is also super cheap and easy to make, so save yourself a few bucks at the festival and be "that guy wearing the pretzel necklace." Single guys: It is a great way to attract ladies who just need a little snack. 
  • CHARGE!!!! Your Phone - You will lose your friends at some point and need to call them. You will also need to call your ride or order an Uber, so having a full charge is important.


This is a very crucial step for having a great day, so it gets its own bold and all caps heading.  The larger Craft Beer Festivals will require more planning, simply because they are larger, there will be more people there and there are so many options. 

The first thing to do is to check out the Beer Fest's website. Check for the list of breweries, the food and rest areas, and the bathrooms.  If there is a map or layout, I always print it out. This gives you a good idea of the space you have and where you want to start. 

Some Craft Beer Festivals will tell you the breweries that are attending and the beers that they will be offering. If this is the case, make a list of 10 beers (that's about 20 ounces of beer) that you really want to try and try them first. This way you will be able to most enjoy them, write stuff down about them, and remember them. After that take a break, grab some food and then go back out and try some other new stuff.  The Great Beer Expo at the Meadowlands does a great job of prepping people before hand through their website. They have maps, the beer list and host of other information.
Most of the Craft Beer Festivals that I have attended, only offer you the list of breweries that are coming. For those, I will usually pick 5-6 that I absolutely want to try and hit them up first.  

I usually split a 3 hour session up into parts: 
1st hour: Try new beers or breweries
2nd hour: Eat, Chat with a Brewer, Find stuff that I may have passed up
3rd hour: Talk with others, hang out with friends revisit favorite beers

Brew at the Zoo 2016
Beer, Animals and Good Friends
I know this sounds like a lot of planning just to go drink beer, but like anything in life when you plan ahead, you can enjoy the celebration so much more. Craft Beer Festivals are supposed to be fun, so I try to take care of all the details before I get there so that I can make the most of my time. Not having to worry about what to eat or where to park leaves you with the freedom to enjoy drinking beer and enjoying the company of others. So now that you have your plan and are all prepared, its time to drink some beers and share good times with others. Come back tomorrow for the Brew162 Tips to a Great Beer Festival. 

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